The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

TWENTY ONE

   

     I had everything I needed.  I did.  No doubt about it.  But it wasn't enough.  I had my hard-working, faithful wife and honest work and a boy who did the best he could.  I cannot justify or explain what I did on a cold, stormy night twenty-five years ago.

     It was between one and two in the morning, and I had not slept for the two nights since Meg and I had moved Nick to the state home.  I was thinking about Nick, and although I had agreed that putting him in the state home was the best thing and had even argued with Meg that it was the right thing to do, I missed him now.  I'd expected to feel relief, but what I had mainly felt the last couple of days was gnawing loneliness.  And maybe guilt.  I don't know.  I tossed in bed, and Meg said sharply, "What's wrong?  Can't you keep still?"

     "What's wrong?  Jesus.  What's wrong is you, woman.  God, Nick wouldn't be in a hospital for retards if you hadn't gone moping around, not eating and not sleeping and then taking those pills."  These were thoughts I'd had for a decade and a half but had never let out of my mouth.

     "I took aspirin.  Just aspirin."

     "Yeah, sure.  Like you didn't do a Goddamn thing wrong."

     There was some noise and a blur of motion, and then Meg was above me, her breath in my face.  "And I couldn't eat because I knew you didn't want me.  I knew you wanted her!"

     I stared at her.  I should have lied, but I pushed her away and said, "You're Goddamned right."

     As I pulled on my clothes, Meg lay with her face in her pillow.  I was repulsed by the shape of her long, thin body under the blanket.  I was repulsed by the back of her head.  I was repulsed by her high-pitched noises.

     Outside, the wind was up and sleet fell.  I drove my truck too fast, and when I got into town, I slid right through the

three stop signs and the two traffic lights, unable to stop, the brakes useless.  Ice carried me into Rose's front yard.  I turned the steering wheel to fishtail around her Cadillac, nothing but an old junker now, and came to rest against her shrubbery.

     Every house on the street was dark.  Rose's porch light was out.  I waded through the snow, expecting I don't know what--some glorious reunion, reconciliation--an escape to the flat, warm West and a life of crime and love making?

     I knocked on the locked storm door at first.  Soft, then louder, the glass rattling.  I stepped off the porch, and sleet stung my head and face.  At the side of the house where I figured her bedroom to be, I had to reach up to tap on the window.  And I said, "Rose.  Rose."

     Bed springs creaked.  "Who's there?" she yelled.

     "It's Fowood."

     "Who?"

     "Fowood Anderson."

     "Fowood?  What the hell do you want?"

     "Rose? Is that you?" I asked, because I suddenly thought I had made a mistake, a horrible mistake.  I thought I'd knocked on the bedroom window of a woman I didn't know.  The sleet pinged against the window above my head.

     It was too late, I suddenly realized.  I was shivering and soaked, and it was too late.  I needed to go home and beg for Meg's forgiveness.  I knew now with more sadness than bitterness that I would have to go to my grave without knowing what it was like to love Rose.

     A car backfired nearby.  At least, that was what I thought for a split second.  Then I thought it was thunder.  But slivers of glass were ringing down on my head.  Rose had shot at me. 

     I got to my truck as fast as I could, lumbering through the snow, my arms flailing, my head ducked.  There was a second shot.  My truck fishtailed out of her yard and down the street.  I knocked over a couple of mailboxes.  I took deep breaths, amazed and baffled and terrified.  I slowed down on Main Street .  Out of town, I picked glass out of my hair and threw pieces out the window.  I took more deep breaths.  I rehearsed what I would say to Meg.  I rehearsed my begging.  Meg, forgive me

     As it turned out, we never talked about that night.  I crawled into bed, and she pretended to be asleep, and I let her.  I pretended to sleep, too, and after a couple of hours, we pretended to wake up, and we went about our business.  My first words to her were, "Hope the animals are standing up to the cold all right.  I'm going to go check on them."

     She was busy at the kitchen sink.  She said, "They're tough."

     And I went out to the barn.

     She never even asked about the dents in the truck's fender. 

For several days, I expected a phone call from Rose or to see the sheriff's car pull up in front of my house.  In my truck, driving home that night, I had asked God to make everything all right, and it seemed He had.

 

* * *

 

     "Fo, there's no way we're going to be able to finish this today," Lon says.

     I'm stooped, reaching for trash.  I twist my neck, look up.  "What?"  I straighten up, my fist full of crumpled yellowed newspaper, my back aching.

     Lon is standing in the doorway of Rose's bedroom.  Jake stands next to him and looks tired.  There's a thick streak of dust on his cheek.  Lon has his hand on the boy's shoulder.

     "It's getting late."

     I look at the windows, which have gone the color of slate.  I hear the wind howl.  The window panes rattle.

     "It's looking bad out there.  The radio said to stay off the roads.  How about you stay at my house tonight, and then we can finish this in the morning?"

     My head is swimming, and I open my mouth and almost--almost--say, But Meg and Nick will be alone.  Part of me is shocked

that I have this thought, that I have lost touch with reality to such an extreme degree.  It's the thought of an old man losing his mind.    

     But nothing happened

     Something happened all right.  Maybe not between your bodies but in your heads and in your hearts.

     I love you, Meg.  I love our baby.

     No.  I'm just tired.  All this remembering, all this digging through the stored up and forgotten events crowding the attic of my brain, all this squinting at the road map of my life--what other metaphors can I think of--oh, hell, it's worn me out.  I'd rather plow fifty acres.  I'd rather teach thirty teenagers for seven hours.

     Outside, the cold is bitter and the snow knee deep.  Lon and Jake and I walk away from Rose's dark house, climb onto the icy vinyl seat of the moving van.  I look straight ahead, try to see through the ice on the windshield.

   

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